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Bush-backers-only policy riles voters at RNC rallies

RIO RANCHO, N.M. -- A Republican National Committee practice of having people sign a form endorsing President Bush or pledging to vote for him in November before being issued tickets for RNC-sponsored rallies is raising concern among voters.

When Vice President Dick Cheney spoke July 31 to a crowd of 2,000 in Rio Rancho, a city of 45,000 near Albuquerque, several people who showed up at the event complained about being asked to sign endorsement forms in order to receive a ticket to hear Cheney.

''Whose vice president is he?" said 72-year-old retiree John Wade of Albuquerque, who was asked to sign the form when he picked up his tickets. ''I just wanted to hear what my vice president had to say, and they make me sign a loyalty oath."

Nick Lucy, a 64-year-old veteran and Democrat, said he was turned away from a May 7 rally in Dubuque, Iowa, at which President Bush spoke even though he had a ticket given to him by a local Republican leader. Lucy, who was not asked to sign a form, said he has seen every president since Ronald Reagan, but he was denied access because he is not a registered Republican. He is a Democrat and a past commander of the American Legion in Dubuque who plays taps at veterans' funerals.

''They asked the police to escort me out of there," Lucy said. ''I wasn't going to disrupt anything, but I probably wasn't going to clap a lot, either. Every rally the president goes to everyone is cheering for him because they're handpicked."

Republicans contend they foiled a plot by America Coming Together, a 527 organization that supports the Democratic Party, to disrupt the New Mexico rally. The 527 groups are so named for the provision in the tax code that applies to tax-exempt political organizations that operate outside party and candidate organizations.

RNC spokesman Yier Shi said RNC campaign rallies are not official visits, but party events designed to energize the Republican base . He said everyone is welcome at the rallies as long as they support President Bush.

Shi said similar forms are used at other reelection and fund-raising rallies sponsored by the RNC.

He added that the decision was made to use the forms at the New Mexico rally after the local RNC office received ''suspicious calls" about the event before it was advertised. He said the caller identification indicated some numbers were from cellphones of members of America Coming Together.

''I think the Democrats are just disappointed we thwarted their plans to disrupt our event," he said.

Geri Prado, New Mexico coordinator for America Coming Together, denies her group planned to disrupt Cheney's speech.

The form Wade was asked to sign had a disclaimer saying no public funds were used to produce it.

Wade said he filled out the form, was given two tickets, but had second thoughts about signing an endorsement he didn't believe in. Wade said he explained his misgivings to a supervisor, and the form was quickly located. The supervisor wrote ''Do Not Use" on the form, but Wade insisted it be given to him. In the end, Wade said, he offered to give back his tickets in exchange for the endorsement, which he did.

''Sure I'm a Democrat and I'll go head to head with you one on one, but I would never disrupt a speech by the vice president," Wade says.

Bush-Cheney spokesman Danny Diaz said that RNC rallies are separate from Bush-Cheney events and that he does not know of any endorsement forms being requested of people attending Bush-Cheney-sponsored events. But he says said he understands why the RNC would require such forms at the campaign events.

''They want to make sure people can hear the president and vice president's vision for the next four years," he said. ''There are thousands of volunteers who sacrifice and work hard on the campaign and who deserve to see and hear their president without being disrupted and disrespected."

The campaign of John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, has had to deal with Republican hecklers at events. The Kerry-Edwards communications director for New Mexico, Ruben Pulido, said that when Kerry visited New Mexico on July 10, several Bush supporters shouted ''Viva Bush" and waved flip-flops.

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